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Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning in search of true identity

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 09:56 AM
TAMPA -

From the precipice of winning a championship to dropping off the playoff ledge, the Tampa Bay Lightning experienced a wide array of success and disappointment in a two-year span.

In 2010-11, Tampa Bay caught the hockey world by surprise in making a long playoff run, losing Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final to eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston.

Last season, the Lightning stumbled out of gate and made a late charge before fizzling in the end, finishing 10th in the conference.

How will the 2013 version of the Lightning fare in a lockout-shortened, 48-game season that kicks off tonight at home against Washington?

Much depends on how the summer revamping project pans out.

"We want to see what we look like,'' Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman said.

While the Lightning still have plenty of offensive firepower – former MVP Marty St. Louis, former 50-goal scorer Vinny Lecavalier and 60-goal scorer Steven Stamkos lead the charge – the defense and goaltending left a lot to be desired last season.

The Lightning allowed 278 goals, the most in the league and nearly 20 more than any other team. The combined save percentage of goaltenders Dwayne Roloson, Mathieu Garon, Dustin Tokarsi and Sebastien Caron was a league-worst .889.

The effort to fix those glaring deficiencies began in the later half of last season, when defensemen Brian Lee and Keith Aulie were acquired in trade-deadline deals. In June, Yzerman traded for 6-foot-6 goaltender Anders Lindback from Nashville.

Then, when the free-agent market opened, Tampa Bay landed defenseman Matt Carle – the top defenseman on the market behind Ryan Suter – along with veteran Sami Salo.

Of the eight defenseman on the opening-night roster at the start of the 2011-12 season, only three remain.

The overhaul gives Tampa Bay more speed on the blue line, which is a necessity nowadays. It also allows head coach Guy Boucher to play his preferred up-tempo system, as the team did during his first season in 2010-11 but was unable to do last season.

"We are going to go with the systems that we feel suit the players,'' Boucher said. "Yes, some things are going to be different (from last season) and some things are going to be the same. What's different is I feel we can count on defenseman that are quick to retrieve pucks and very quick to move the puck ahead to the forwards. So, our systems are based on that.''

That might not be completely evident from the start.

A shortened training camp – reduced to six days – was not sufficient for Boucher to implement everything he wants to put in place. And the style Tampa Bay likes to play tends to be a bit different for defensemen.

"I think everyday you just try to learn a little bit more and absorb what we are trying to do, so it's going to be a little bit of a process here early on,'' Carle said. "I just try to study as much film as I can and hopefully, after we get some games and into a game, things will start to come more naturally.''

The additions and upgrades defensively, as well as some of the adjustments to the system, makes Tampa Bay more similar to the 2010-11 team and has Lightning players excited for things to get underway.

"We've made some adjustments; and you learn as a player as you go along and the coaching staff learns as they go along,'' Stamkos said. "Last year was a disappointing year, so we want to learn from that. We've made some tweaks to things that maybe didn't work out as well as we wanted to last year and guys look like they're very comfortable with the short time that we've done them here.

"So, we are excited to put it to the test in a game situation and hopefully it works.''


eerlendsson@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7835 Twitter: @erlendssonTBO

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